First Published: Revolution No.1, June 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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To the Secretary of the Coventry Group
Thank you for your letter telling us of the resignation of the Coventry Group from the CFBML. We regret the contradictions are as deep as they are and that the desire for unity is not sufficient to overcome them through struggle. However because the Coventry group do not desire to struggle for unity it is a good thing and not a bad thing that the group is leaving the CFB. The executive Committee of the CFB had planned to move the group’s expulsion if it did not fulfill the minimum necessary conditions for the struggle for unity to take place; In this the EC has received the unai1imous support of the National Committee.
You claim in your letter that the Resolution of the Third Conference shows that ”the political line of the CFB has been captured by subjective dogmatism”. That is not so. The resolution points out, concisely and clearly the key Marxist-Leninist principles we must apply to the task of building the revolutionary Communist Party, which is the central task in Britain today. These Marxist-Leninist principles sum up lessons won in hard struggle by the proletariat throughout the world over many scores of years. It is not ’dogmatic’ to state them clearly and concisely. The resolution is designed to draw clear lines of demarcation and to be a guide to action: it was therefore made concise, without long explanatory argument in the body of the resolution itself.
You claim that a political ’putsch’ has taken place in the CFB. That is completely untrue. A long two line ideological struggle has been fought out for over a year. Politics have been put consistently in command. Organisational changes followed the ideological battle and did not precede it. They were carried out by putting the main emphasis on first winning ideological conviction for the principles behind them. Formal changes in the composition of the leading core took place after and not before overwhelming support had been won for the correct line on Party building. There was no putsch. Your talk of a putsch shows your ultra-democratic dislike of building a strong leading core in the CFB through ideological struggle, criticism and self-criticism.
The fact that the chairman and secretary of the Coventry group ultra-democratically failed to attend National Committee meetings explains why the group was taken by surprise by the continual gains in support for the correct line on Party building. Your accusation of a putsch looks like a desperate attempt to disguise the fact that the Coventry group stood for an incorrect line which over time fewer and fewer comrades continued to support.
You claim that it is no longer possible for necessary ideological and political struggle to take place in the CFB. This is the opposite of the truth and again attempts to disguise the fact that the incorrect-line of the Coventry group was inevitably losing out in the two-line struggle. The EC repeatedly urged the group to strengthen the composition of its comrades attending the NC. It is Coventry that ultra-democratically failed to do so and failed to carry out necessary ideological and political struggle. The Coventry group left the Third Conference of the CFBML after only a few hours when its motion to completely reject the Conference resolution was defeated. The comrades from Coventry had not been muzzled in any way.
Their speeches were listened to carefully and answered with well thought-out criticism from all other sections of the CFB. It was they who gave up the struggle. The group should either have continued the struggle or made a bold self-criticism. Instead they left. This was a serious error of liberalism.
The internal practice of the CFB over the last year has proved that even if the correct line is at first in a minority it will in time win overwhelming support. As Mao Tse-tung says, “the correctness or incorrectness of the political line decides everything”. If the Coventry group believes its line is correct and in the interests of the working class why does it not dare to fight for it so that the whole CFB takes up the stand? Would that not be a correct way to serve the working class?
You claim that the original policy statement of the CFBML, ’Origins and Perspectives of the Marxist-Leninist movement in Britain’ and the statement ’On the Question of Party Building’ by the Joint Committee of Communists, the forerunner of the CFB, have been completely rejected without open struggle about them. This is not so.
Certainly there is a contradiction between the resolution of the Third Conference and some aspects of ’Origins and Perspectives’. ’Origins and Perspectives’ made some important and correct statements, but we now see that it also made some serious errors. In essence the most serious error was its liberal line that the Marxist-Leninist Party will be built by a process of ideological evolution. The CFB now grasps firmly the fact that the revolutionary Communist Party will be built by ideological struggle, not ideological evolution.
Over the next few months the National Committee under the leadership of the EC, will, through struggle, make an assessment of the achievements and shortcomings of ’Origins and Perspectives’. Had the Coventry group stayed in the CFB its comrades should have taken part in this struggle and fought for what is in the interests of the working class. At this stage the majority of the comrades on the National Committee in general would have opposed Coventry’s line, but even so they might have supported some of the group’s views. Whatever the case all comrades would have listened, and if the line was right, the line would have eventually won through.
The fact that the Coventry group’s views on ’Origins and Perspectives’ will not be heard in the CFB, is not the result of any decision by the CFB but is the result of the group’s liberal decision to give up the struggle and leave the organisation.
In order to draw firm and definite lines of demarcation in the Marxist- Leninist movement in Britain we set out below the real causes of the split between the CFB and the Coventry group.
There has been no ’putsch’ in the CFB, the organisation has not been captured by ‘subjective dogmatism’ and ideological struggle is not suppressed. The causes of the split with Coventry are overwhelmingly the errors of the Coventry group, which it failed to tackle through bold self-criticism. These errors are mainly three: 1. liberalism; 2 an ultra-democratic failure to put party building first; and 3. tailism behind the opportunists in the working class movement.
Mao Tse-tung points out, ’liberalism rejects ideological struggle’. In words the Coventry group support the principle of ideological struggle but in practice they reject it. This is clear from the points already made in this letter.
In words the Coventry group said they supported the essence of the correct motion to the first session of the Third Conference, held in March 1975, which declared that active ideological struggle is the weapon for ensuring unity in building the Party. In words the members of the Coventry group on the National Committee supported the important NC resolution ’On Relations between Marxist-Leninist Organisations in Britain’, which points out that active ideological struggle is the key to advance in building the party out of the different Marxist-Leninist organisations at present in existence. But the practice of the group was different and quite liberal.
The Coventry group liberally and ultra-democratically failed to send their leading comrade to National Committee meetings. As a result their members on the NC did not fight strongly in the struggle for a correct line in building the Party of the working class. The group liberally resented the Executive Committee’s criticism of their reports: and instead of making bold self-criticism or criticism of what they thought were errors in the leadership of the EC, they stopped making the reports and gave up the struggle. They attended only the first few hours of the second session of the Third Conference and walked out. Now they have resigned from the CFB and given up the struggle internally altogether.
The letter of resignation from the Coventry group says, “we are sure that we will continue to struggle with comrades in the CFB”. On the contrary on their present liberal conduct we must expect the Coventry group not to struggle. If they intend to struggle, why are they leaving the CFB? If they know they can’t struggle any further because their line is wrong then they must not be liberal with themselves and must make a bold self-criticism.
In words the Coventry group cannot reject ideological struggle but in practice they do reject it, and fall headlong into liberalism.
The Resolution of the Third Conference, which the Coventry group opposed, firmly stated that the central task in Britain today is to build the Marxist-Leninist Party. Without the leadership of a democratic-centralist revolutionary Communist Party it is impossible for the working class to seize state power and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. To deny this central task is to make a serious error of ultra-democracy – to deny the importance to the working-class of revolutionary Communist leadership. In words the Coventry Group could not reject this truth, but in deeds it is work in the trade union movement that the group puts first.
The leading comrade in the group could not find the time to be a National Committee member and attend its meetings about every two months, but he does find time to be on the executive committee of a section of a trade union, involving continuous responsibility for trade union tasks. His priorities are clearly wrong. The same goes for all members of the group, who take part energetically in trade union work but who repeatedly failed to carry out national CFB tasks. These are not accidental mistakes but are the result of deep ultra-democratic and economist errors.
Another example of this ultra-democracy is the failure in Coventry ever to set up a group committee despite repeated criticism. This is a further reason why the group was unable to carry out national CFB tasks and carry out only spontaneous political activity.
In putting trade union work before building the Party the Coventry group are making errors of economism and spontaneism as well as the error of ultra-democracy. It is objectively sacrificing the long term strategic interests of the working class for momentary gains.
The Coventry group has fallen into ultra democracy and failed to grasp the fact that the working class needs scientific proletarian leadership to carry the struggle against the bourgeoisie through to the end.
The other groups in the CFB all made errors of liberalism and ultra-democracy and failed to put party building first; but after a period of struggle they came round, made bold self-criticisms and threw themselves into fighting for the correct line on party-building.
At first the Coventry group, although liberal and vague, had given generally sympathetic support to the correct line in the internal struggle within the CFB. Then less than a month before the second session of the Third Conference, they announced their decision to move the total rejection of the Conference Resolution, clearly threatening resignation. Why had the two line struggle led to an antagonistic contradiction in the case of Coventry but not in the case of other groups?
Because they had fallen into liberalism, refused to make bold self-criticism and had dug themselves into an opportunist position on voting Labour and on supporting bourgeois nationalisation. As the struggle on these questions developed within the CFB side by side with the closely related principal struggle on Party-building, the Coventry group came increasingly into sharp contradiction with the majority of the CFB.
The stand the group took can be seen in articles by their leading comrade in Marxist-Leninist Quarterly number 7 (’Expose the Reformists of Every Stripe and Hue’) and number 11 (’Nationalisation’). These articles have been firmly criticised in MLQ 11 in articles titled ’Nationalisation and the crisis of British Imperialism’ and ’Oppose Opportunism on the Question of Nationalisation’.
In his article in MLQ 11 the comrade from Coventry fawns on the opportunists in the working class movement and complains about the way they are criticised in the National Committee statement on nationalisation (also published in the same issue). He writes: “Unsubstantial statements like ’oppose the reformist policies of Labour’s hangers on – the revisionist and trotskyists – who support British capitalism’ do nothing to improve the central theme of the line presented and can only provide ammunition to the enemies of Marxism-Leninism”.
The words of Lenin in the ’Constituent Assembly Elections and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ closely apply to this position of the leading member of the Coventry group:
“You are fawning on the opportunists, who are alien to the proletariat as a class, who are the servants, the agents of the bourgeoisie and the vehicles of its influences, and unless the labour movement rids itself of them, it will remain a bourgeois labour movement. Your advocacy of ’unity’ with the opportunists... is objectively a defence of the enslavement of the workers by the imperialist bourgeoisie with the aid of its best agents in the labour movement.”)(Lenin’s emphasis throughout)
In his article the leading Coventry comrade characteristically uses the word ’revolutionaries’ instead of ’Marxist-Leninists’ in order to flatter the opportunists in the working class. This goes hand in hand with his argument that ’the people who currently operate under the headings of ’reformists, revisionists and Trotskyists’ are the ones whom we aim to convince of the correctness of the analysis and action of Marxism-Leninism. (MLQ 11 page 41). Therefore presumably according to him, we must unite with them, flatter them, and avoid pointing out they are objectively serving the bourgeoisie.
In the article in MLQ 7 on page 3, this leading Coventry comrade carefully avoids accusing all Trotskyist organisations of a contemptuous attitude towards the working-class: for him it is only ’some’ Trotskyist organisations that do this not all. In fact in the same month in which the Coventry group resigned from the CFB, their chairman and secretary both made speeches to a so-called ’Right to Work March’ which was wholly under the leadership of the Trotskyist, economist and opportunist ’International Socialists’.
In Lenin’s words, the Coventry group is indeed ”fawning on the opportunists”.
The struggle within the CFB over Social Democracy showed how far the Coventry group has fallen into tailism behind the opportunists. The group repeatedly talks about ’exposure’ of Social Democracy rather than boldly combating Social Democracy. By this they mean exposure crab-wise – by approaching it sideways rather than by firmly criticising it head-on. They criticise Social Democracy only in a way that will not cause too much offence to its supporters. For example in MLQ 7 their leading comrade deliberately starts off his article by praising the aims of the Labour Party Manifesto of 1974 as ’very laudable’!
For the Coventry group the revisionists, Trotskyists and Social Democrats are part of the working class. The group does not grasp Lenin’s key idea in the struggle against opportunism that we must go “lower and deeper into the real masses” in order to rally the staunchest and most reliable proletarian fighters.
On the question of bourgeois nationalisation, the Coventry group supports and broadcasts the opportunists’ campaign for bourgeois nationalisation even though this strengthens state monopoly capitalism, brings us nearer the corporate state and social fascism and does not save workers’ jobs because nationalisation is rationalisation. For example in both MLQ 7 and MLQ 11 their comrade calls on revolutionary Communists to campaign for the nationalisation of North Sea Oil.
The CFB says firmly that the campaign for nationalisation is the work of the opportunists and not a real demand of the working class. The real demand of the working class is the right to work.
The way the Coventry group bow to the campaign for bourgeois nationalisation is another example of how they do not dare to stand up to the opportunists in the working class.
The Coventry group have made major errors of liberalism by failing to carry out active ideological struggle, and of ultra-democracy by not putting Party-building first and by tailing behind the opportunists in the working class. We call on them to make a bold self-criticism.
None of the errors have been unique in the CFB and it is not a crime to commit errors, even ones as serious as these. Making errors is an inevitable part of political work. The important thing is to have a bold, self-critical attitude and to correct them quickly.
At the same time we warn the Coventry group that unless they speedily correct their errors they will degenerate from comrades making opportunist errors into full-blown opportunists.
The contradiction with the Coventry group became antagonistic not because they committed errors but because they resented and rejected criticism and dug themselves into an opportunist position.
We know that subjectively comrades in Coventry desire proletarian revolution and work hard and long. But objectively they have taken up a thoroughly opportunist stand. What started as a number of innocent mistakes has, through lack of bold self-criticism become a weapon of reaction. Unless the Coventry group quickly corrects its mistakes it will become an obstacle to its members and those under its leadership preventing them militantly supporting the building of the revolutionary Communist Party.
For these reasons, unless the Coventry group quickly corrects its errors it is in the interests of the working class that the group should disintegrate. Instead of this we hope before long to read a bold self-criticism.
BUILD THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY TO LEAD THE REVOLUTION
Executive Committee of the CFB (M-L)